WHITFIELD -- Francesco Mucci never really considered himself a baker until he made dessert for a friend one night.
He knows his way around appetizers, salads and main courses. For most of his life, the 58-year-old chef made a living cooking what people want for dinner.
Sixteen years ago, he moved to the Sarasota area from his native Italy. Having worked in Italian restaurants as a young man, he emigrated to Florida with the dream of cooking from his own menu in his own restaurant.
He did that, repeatedly. He first gained local notice when he opened Ferrari's Italian Restaurant in Sarasota. Through 2007 he opened several other restaurants.
But one night, a friend from Italy came to his restaurant and asked him for dessert. Mucci had recently started baking a few things, but just for fun. His friend told him he should consider baking for a living.
"I started for a joke," Mucci said. "He said to me 'Why don't you start to make cookies?'"
It was an idea that came at the right time. The restaurant business soured with the rest of the economy in 2008. Mucci had sold off several of his restaurants and closed the last one, Villa Francesco, when he discovered that his desserts promised to make his professional life sweeter than his entrees.
Last month, Mucci's com
mercial bakery, Bombolo Biscotti, took its latest step into the big leagues of baking. The company tripled its production space to 30,000 square feet when it bought into a recently rehabbed warehouse property at 7150 15th St. E. It previously leased space on Tallevast Road near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The move came at the right time. An established vendor for Publix, Bombolo Biscotti sells millions of cookies to the supermarket chain every year. The cookies are carried in stores across nine states, Mucci said.
Not any old cookie
Bombolo's products are not just any old cookie. "Biscotti" is an Italian word that covers all types of cookies and other sweet, baked goods, including the crispy treats coffee drinkers dunk. Most of what comes out of Mucci's kitchen is cookies, but cookies that hardly resemble the American chocolate chip standard.
Frilled, ridged and flavored with almond flour, candied fruit and colorful toppings, the Bombolo cookies have the feel of holiday baked goods. But as Mucci has found, customers want them year-round.
Mucci sells directly to Publix and Whole Foods. A distributor moves several dozen types of cookies and pastries including Misto Italianos, strappole and fiochettos to dozens of other buyers. Next month, he will open a franchise bakery in Philadelphia to supply supermarkets in the Northeast.
With the expansion, Mucci is hiring and adding production capacity. His new bakery has all new ovens and a streamlined production system. A staff of 23, which often covers a two-shift schedule, could grow by a baker's dozen in the coming year.
The work and the new facility bring a smile to Mucci's face. He said that he has long dreamed of having this level of success.
"I love my job," he said.
The food business is a family affair for Mucci. Last October, his daughter, Monica Cecconi, and her husband, Luca, moved to Bradenton and opened Tiramisu Ristorante & Pizzeria.
Bombolo Biscotti is the first business to move into the recently renovated Wellcraft Business Park. Praetorian Capital, a subsidiary of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Cannabis-Rx, converted the 209,000-square-foot former Wellcraft power boat manufacturing facility into a commercial condominium.
Buying into the business park will be a good deal long-term, Mucci said.
"I started to try to buy something and not just rent, rent, rent," he said.
The new space gives the bakery room to expand for years to come.
Rob Wilhoit, a real estate agent marketing the property, said the multi-building complex is being promoted for uses expected to be compatible with surrounding residential and retail neighborhoods. Those uses include recreation facilities and light industrial buyers.
Praetorian invested about $2.36 million to buy and renovate the park. Mucci purchased his space for about $745,000, according to Manatee County property records.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.